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Using an amp with Rocksmith

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AC/DC Angus Young Gibson Guitar
AC/DC Rocksmith 2014 setup

One of my favorite things to do is play Rocksmith on my Xbox One in my home theater.  I think I’ve put over 500 hours into the game over the past couple years.  Once you’ve played quite a while, you start to realize that eventually in order to hear all of your mistakes you need to start hearing yourself playing through a real amplifier and not through the game, which masks a lot of your imperfections.  You need an amp with Rocksmith.

When I started looking into this, I saw that there were a lot of suggestions scattered throughout different forums saying how to do it.  One of the first suggestions was using a Y-cable.  I had one of these at home so I tried that first.  Unfortunately, it was a dismal failure because the one I had was a stereo splitter instead of a mono splitter.  I think even a mono splitter would have likely failed as well based upon what I read due to grounding issues.

In order to make it work, I ended up ordering a Radial BigShot ABY True Passive Switcher.   This basically allows you to hook up the guitar to output both to an amp and the Rocksmith xbox cable.  Any standard 1/4″ guitar cable works between the switcher and the amp.  The amp I used is a Line6 DT25 that I’ve had around for a few years, one of the good things about it is that it can change it’s tone to be similar to what Rocksmith is outputting.  An affiliate Amazon link to the switcher is below:

Radial BigShot Switcher at Amazon

So what did I learn?  Well right away I learned that some of my technique is pretty bad, lol.  Notes that count as ‘correct’ on Rocksmith and may blend in with the rest of the song kind of stick out like a sore thumb when you’re listening to it on a real amp.  In general though I really liked the change, in fact I wish I would have spent the money earlier to do it sooner.

When doing it, I would recommend going into the game and turning down the guitar volume to 0 so you can only hear your guitar through the amp and not through the game as well.  That way any sound you play will immediately come from the amp and won’t be delayed through the game.  Depending on your TV lag, you may also experience some audio/visual issues since the audio from the amp is immediate but the TV sound may be delayed from 10 to 100ms.  I didn’t notice much of an issue with that after I switched my equipment to game mode.

This is how I had it hooked up below.  Basically the guitar goes to input, the Rocksmith cable from the Xbox goes to A, and the amp goes to B.

Bigshot Bypass Amp Switcher

There are other devices that might work in this scenario, but a lot of them are kind of pieces of junk according to reviews.  That’s why I decided to spend the extra money to do it.  The 4 1/2 stars the Radial BigShot switcher has at the time of this writing are well earned, it doesn’t have any of the grounding issues or other problems I’ve read about from people trying to go with lower quality items.

I’ll probably be putting out some more Rocksmith 2014 related articles in the future.  If there’s something in particular you want to know, please send me an email and I’ll try and address it in the next Rocksmith post.

Best pinball machine for the money

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World Cup Soccer and Iron Man pinball machines
World Cup Soccer and Iron Man pinball machines

What’s the best pinball machine for the money?  Obviously that’s going to be a very subjective argument, and will probably depend on what kind of a player you are.  I’m going to separate my advice into three sections, the one with the best ruleset for the money, the one with the best toys/stuff for the money, and the one with the best combo of the two.

Best pinball machine for the money (ruleset)

For the ruleset part, almost everything to be considered is going to be a modern stern.  A few years you probably could have made the argument that some Bally Williams game were in the mix but the price inflation on those titles has taken them out of the mix.  For rulesheet contenders, I would narrow it down to:

  • Stargate, 2 wizard modes, 8 multiballs, 6 modes, around $2000.
  • The Walking Dead, super deep rulesheet, $4500 used.
  • Metallica, also super deep rulesheet, $4500 used.
  • X-Men, also super deep rulesheet, $4000 used.

Winner, The Walking Dead.  Developed by Lyman Sheets, it’s a great example of what can be done with pinball rules.

Best pinball machine for the money (toys)

For the toys part, it’s almost the opposite, everything that is going to be considered is going to be Bally Williams.  The flip side is that most of the games with great toys are also very expensive, like the castle on Medieval Madness.  For the toys contenders, I would narrow it down to:

  • Star Trek The Next Generation, around $4000 to $4500 used.
  • The Shadow, around $3000 used.
  • Jurassic Park, around $3000 used.

And the winner would be the Shadow.  It has the battlefield, the hidden ball trick, and movable ramp selectors, all for $3000.  Jurassic Park has one of the coolest toys ever, the ball eating dinosaur but it isn’t enough to beat the shadow.

Best pinball machine for the money (combo)

For the combo part, I selected the following games from above:

  • The Shadow
  • Stargate
  • The Walking Dead

This is a pretty tough choice, and my recommendation will basically be based upon budget.  If you’ve only got $2000, go Stargate, if you’ve got $3000 go Shadow, and if you’ve $4500 go Walking Dead.  I’m actually trying to find a Walking Dead machine myself.

Hopefully this rundown will help you make a good decision on buying a pinball machine.

Best Pinball Machines for home use

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X-Men pinball machine pro model

If you’re looking for the best pinball machines for home use, it’s kind of a daunting process. There are the top ten lists from pinside and ipdb which can be a start, but unfortunately those lists don’t really help when trying to determine if a game is great for longer term play at home. One of the best examples of this is Tales of the Arabian Nights, a game that historically has hovered around #10. The game is beautiful, has a great light show, etc but is also very easy and can get boring very quickly. Great for guests and location play, bad for repeated use at home. Here are the things I think make a pinball machine great for use at home:

1) A ruleset where the ball times match the rule depth.  Basically, the ruleset has to equal or be greater than the play time or you’ll get bored. Lord of the Rings has long ball times and super deep ruleset, so they go together well. Iron Man has short ball times and not a super deep ruleset, so it goes together. The problem occurs when you have a game where you can keep the ball alive forever and you end up repeating the same game over and over. Terminator 2 might be a good example of that. One of my favorite games on location, at home though you quickly see everything the game has to offer.

2) Reliability. If you’re not technical, some games like Twilight Zone can be a nightmare to keep running over a long period of time. In general, games with less use are more reliable, games with less stuff break less, and ones that are newer usually have less issues. Basically, if you bought a used Addams Family pinball machine and a used Iron Man, you could pretty safely assume that the Iron Man would have less issues because it’s newer and has less stuff to break on it.

3) Theme you like. If you’re going to put it in your home, it needs to be something you’re interested in. Don’t buy a Medieval Madness just because it’s rated highly, buy it because that’s a top theme for you personally. It can also be a trap, as a lot of games with awesome themes aren’t actually that good (like Avengers).

The best pinball machines for home use

Here are the games I would recommend for home use:

  • Medieval Madness pinball machine.  Generally considered to be one of the best games of all time, it also has a good ruleset and ball times to match.  It’s biggest drawback is cost, it’s likely going to cost you $8000 or more even for the remake.  The good thing is that with the remake there are tons of them around so finding one isn’t a problem at all.  The originals and remakes have kept their value steady around $8k the past couple years so they’re not really increasing or decreasing in value.  The castle is probably the coolest thing ever put on a pinball machine.
  • AC/DC Premium pinball machine.  One of the best modern Stern games, it has a unique ruleset and fast action.  It’s definitely very difficult to make it to wizard mode, making it a great game for home use. These are currently available new for around $7000 but probably won’t be for long.  Stern generally produces games for a few years off and on and then they exit the production line forever for the most part.  AC/DC was one of the key machines in the pinball resurgence that started around that time it came out in 2012.  I’ve had my game since I bought it new in the summer of 2012.  I highly recommend adding a shaker motor to it as well.   I do own this game by the way.
  • Twilight Zone pinball machine.  Also considered to be one of the best games of all time, it has more toys than almost every other game.  The ruleset is decent but isn’t nearly as good as some more modern games.  Probably going to cost at least $6000 to find one of those.  Reliability might be the only question here since it has so many toys on it.  It has the gumball machine which is super cool, the power field with two magnets for flippers, the powerball ceramic ball which just flies around the playfield, and a giant clock in the back that times the modes and other things depending on what’s going on in the game.
  • Attack From Mars pinball machine.  The predecessor to Medieval Madness, it has a simpler ruleset but some may say it’s more fun than Medieval Madness (including me).  The cheapest of the new remakes is $6500 but most people would go with the SE option at around $700 more.  Attack from Mars is game of hitting each of the major shots 3 times for a mini wizard mode plus trying to destroy all of the aliens attacking world cities.  It’s a very fun game for all ages and can be very challenging especially for new players.  It doesn’t have many toys but the shaking aliens and middle saucer provide a lot of satisfaction when you hit them.
  • Iron Man pinball machine.  It doesn’t have the deepest ruleset but it has very short ball times and has a great ‘one more game’ feel to it.  I owned one for a long time (5+ years) and it was great to own, probably still would if I had more room.  It can be had for $4500 to $5000 currently.  It comes in two flavors, the original game from 2010 and an updated vault edition in 2015.  There’s a debate on which one is better, I personally like the older model better.  To me it has the better cabinet head of the two but doesn’t have the updated decals of the VE, so it’s kind of a give and take.
  • Metallica pinball machine.  Has a great ruleset and is very fun to play.  If you like the music, then it’s great to own at home.  $5000 is what it will probably cost you to own for the pro, the premium or LE will be $6500 or more.  Most people favor the pro on this model since most of the things on the premium and LE don’t add that much fun factor and in the case of the hammer, can add a bunch of frustration.  The hammer on the upper models obscures your vision from being able to see the ball and a lot of times doesn’t hit the ball into the lock like it’s supposed to.
  • The Walking Dead pinball machine.  This game originally wasn’t well liked, but after the software was finished it shot up to a premiere game.  I really enjoy this game a lot even though I dislike the theme.  $4500 to $5000 is about what it would cost.  Most people go with the pro on this one because the premium features don’t add a whole lot for the money.  The main missing feature that pro owners want is the walker bomb button, you can use that in a lot of modes that can help you get super high scores.
  • Lord of the Rings pinball machine.  This game is one of the best games of all time with fantastic code, great shots, and killer theme integration.  It costs about $5k to $6k normally and worth every penny.  It’s only downside is that after you own it for a while, the game times get to be really long, up to 45 minutes for really good players on a roll.  I recently bought one again for the second time after running through a bunch of games over the years, decided it was one I wanted back for good.
  • The Simpsons Pinball Party pinball machine.  Just like Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons is a fantastic game that has killer theme integration and tons of fantastic code.  Like Lord of the Rings, it’s only drawback is that game times can be super long after a while.  I think the code on it is even stronger than Lord of the Rings but the music can be a little annoying after a while sometimes.

Tier 2 Games

Other games I’d recommend to a lesser degree are:

  • Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  7 modes that must be complete in order to make the wizard mode worth lots of points, a bunch of multiballs and great flowing shots.  Not quite as difficult as some of the games above which is why it’s on the secondary list.
  • Spiderman.  5 different modes, a bunch of multiballs, and great callouts.  Bland modes and main multiball hold it back some.
  • X-Men.  7 modes, 8 hero modes, ton of code here for the money.  Bad voice callouts and a wolverine toy that’s too big hold it back some.
  • Tron.  Game like Iron Man only slightly easier in my opinion.  Has a geometry problem on the ‘Gem’ shot which makes it a constant blocker in home use.
  • Wizard of Oz.  This game could be higher except for reliability issues hold it back.  Depending on when the game was built and what kind of fixes it has, it can either be very reliable or trouble prone.
  • Stargate.  This game has a great ruleset, a great theme, and is reasonably priced.  There really aren’t any drawbacks to it other than replacement parts are hard to get and expensive compared to other games.
  • Jurassic Park.  Has a great ruleset, a great theme, and one of the best toys in pinball, the dinosaur that eats pinballs.  The first mode always starts at Stampede which can get a little old after a while.
  • The Shadow.  Like the others, has a great ruleset and also a great playfield to go with it.  Ramp shots that you can control the direction, great battlefield toy, horrible theme.  🙂  If it had a better theme it would probably be a lot more valuable.
  • NBA Fastbreak.  This isn’t one you’d see on many people’s lists, but people who are really into pinball usually aren’t into sports.  Hence why almost all sports game are super cheap compared to games of a similar age.  Kids love this game, it’s easy to understand and very difficult to win multiple championships.
  • Bram Strokers Dracula.  Like the Shadow, a good game with a horrible theme.  Unlike the Shadow though, it doesn’t have a deep ruleset, it has a very shallow ruleset that depends on the game being setup very hard.  A lot of the collectors in my area own this game, which is a testament to its staying power.

Not recommended pinball machines

Games I would not recommend that are near the top in the rankings:

  • Monster Bash.  It basically has the same ruleset as Medieval Madness and Attack from Mars only easier.  Most people get tired of it a lot faster than those other two.  I’ve had multiple friends who got rid of it within a year of acquiring it.
  • Tales of the Arabian Nights.  Very shallow ruleset, it’s very easy to reach the wizard mode.  Also the shots aren’t the most satisfying on this game outside of the ramp.
  • Scared Stiff.  A little too easy for most people.  Once you get the main shots down, it gets fairly easy to reach the wizard mode.
  • Theater of Magic.  Beautiful game but I think there are much better choices for the price.
  • Cactus Canyon.  Game was never really finished, super expensive.  More of a collectors piece than anything else.  The shots are super fun actually, just not a complete game.

Bang for Buck List

The ‘bang for buck’ pinball machines I would recommend would be:

  • Stargate
  • Shadow
  • World Poker Tour
  • Jurassic Park
  • Bram Strokers Dracula

Hopefully this has helped you determine the best pinball machines for home use.  I know that when I started out it was a struggle.  I had to do a TON of reading and research to figure out exactly what to get.  One problem I had that a lot of you also probably have is budget.  It’s one thing to spend $1000 on a pinball machine, but when some of them are getting up to $8000 or more that starts to get a little ridiculous.  Luckily most of the older ones keep their value pretty well.  It’s mainly reducing your available cashflow than losing the money outright through depreciation.

Putting Numbers and Names on Chexx Bubble Hockey Players

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Players I did with the decal paper

If you’re like me, you’ve been wanting to put player names and numbers forever on your Chexx bubble hockey players.  The problem?  A severe lack of info on how to do it.  Every place you go to, they give vague instructions or have nonexistent links or reference products that aren’t available anymore.  In order to fix that, I’ve done the research myself and figured out how to do it.  Is it perfect?  No, but that’s more because of limitations of my printer than anything else.

Step one, get the materials.  In order to do this, you’re going to need an inkjet printer and to order some decal paper to go through it.  I looked all over for good decal paper before finally finding this stuff here on Amazon through the affiliate link below:

Amazon Decal Paper Link

And here’s a picture of what the package looked like:

Decal paper I used to do the players with

Once I got the glossy vinyl decal paper in, it was time to get the fonts ready to go.  I had to figure out what kind of jersey font I needed, what size, and what color.  I found the perfect font here:

https://www.dafont.com/jersey-m54.font

I downloaded that font, and brought it into Microsoft Word 2016.  From there, there’s an outline option, and you can see the different options I tried below:

Chexx bubble hockey jersey names and numbers on the decal paper

Problem is, my printer doesn’t print white, which wouldn’t be an issue except for my players are all wearing away jerseys, lol.  So unfortunately, I had to go with the solid black numbers and letters all around because the other ones just weren’t dark enough.  If I had white jerseys though, they would have been perfect.  Maybe someday I’ll have a printer that can print white and I’ll be able to make them a lot better.

In any case, after I printed my jersey numbers and names based upon the mid 90’s Blackhawks and around the year 2000 Avs, I started cutting them out and installing them.  You’ll want to let the ink dry before installing, and not press too hard or the ink will smudge some (but not too bad).  I took a bunch of pictures below to show the end result.  I’m very happy with the end result, much better than the plain jerseys that were there before.  Hopefully this helps someone else out too.  If this does help, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page or at least share it with your friends that might be interested.

I’ve also got a lot more bubble hockey/chexx information in my Bubble Hockey Buying Guide which has a bunch of info on mods, repair, buying, etc.

Forsberg Chexx Player
Chexx rink after decals
Belfour chexx player
Amonte chexx player

Replacing your Chexx Bubble Hockey goalie

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Old chexx bubble hockey goalie on left vs newer style on the right.

If you’ve ever tried to upgrade your old bubble hockey goalie, you’ve probably noticed that the old goalie and new goalie styles aren’t compatible.  The old goalie style had a square peg coming out from the bottom and the new style is the opposite, it has a round hole that sits on peg base.  This may not come into play if you’re always using the old style players, but if you upgrade to the new NHL teams or newer style players, it’s sure to come up.  In order to help show you how to do it, I’ve made a video that shows how to remove the old goalie mechanism and put in the new mechanism.

Here’s the video, hopefully this helps someone out.